On Oct. 7, the citizens of Kenai will choose between four candidates for two open city council seats.
The four candidates — incumbents Mike Boyle and Tim Navarre and newcomers Henry Knackstedt and Holly Spann — met for a candidate debate Wednesday at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. The candidates discussed issues from thoughts on the veteran’s memorial to how to plan for anticipated economic growth and their future visions for the city of Kenai.
Boyle, who has served on the council for nine years, said he has always made it a priority to pay attention to all citizens concerns and act in a way that would benefit everyone equally.
“I will make one promise — I will listen,” he said.
Navarre, who completed his first three-year term on the council, said he has been actively involved in the Kenai community since he arrived in 1957 and looks forward to continuing his public service to improve the quality of life.
In addition to serving on the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission prior to his election to council, Navarre has also represented Kenai as a borough assemblyman and is currently on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.
Knackstedt is a life-long Kenai resident who is no stranger to public service to the city. He has served as the Kenai Airport Commission chairman for the past 20 years and spent the last four years as vice chair of the Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission. He is also a licensed pilot and member of the Kenai Civil Air Patrol. Along with running a small family business as a consultant, he works for the Kenai Peninsula Borough as a road engineer.
Spann said she hopes to represent a new generation, if elected to the council. She has served on the Kenai beautification committee for the past two years and was recently nominated as vice chair. Spann, a mother of four, has volunteered for the Boys and Girls Club and been involved with Caring for the Kenai for the last few years.
“I have always been interested in politics and felt like now is the time to make a difference,” she said. “Working on the council is an opportunity to enhance and create a better community.”
The first question posed to the four candidates involved the issue of the veteran’s memorial in Leif Hansen Park. Two months ago, the council passed a resolution to support the memorial despite the city receiving two letters, one in opposition and another in support of the monument, which has a cross symbol that represents a soldier’s grave.
Boyle, an Army veteran, he said it’s important to honor veterans, but voted against Navarre’s resolution to support the memorial because he didn’t feel the city should have sided in either group.
“This is not about honoring veterans,” he said. “It’s about two entities with opposing interests who have a lot of money and are both threatening to sue the city. My job as a council member is to do what’s in the best interest of the city.”
Navarre said while a lot of people want to put a dollar figure on a potential lawsuit he felt proud that the city took a stance in support for veterans.
“My whole issue is if (veterans) can go to war and put their lives on the line for our freedoms and we are worried about getting sued back home, I say bring it on,” Navarre said. “If you don’t stand for something, you don’t stand for anything.”
Knackstedt said he supports the memorial and veterans and viewed the cross not as religious but as a mural that tells a story.
“It seems like in life you can always offend somebody on any issue,” he said. “It should be supported and I do believe we have support outside the city to defend it. Some things are worth supporting.”
Spann said she also supported the memorial and that is should be left as it is.
Last October, Kenai citizens voted down the city’s comprehensive plan. Navarre, Spann and Knackstedt said they supported the plan, which failed in a referendum.
Navarre, who is the Planning and Zoning Commission liaison, and Knackstedt, commission vice chair, said they both worked extensively on the comprehensive plan. Navarre said he looks forward to continuing work on the plan, which will go out for public input next year.
“I respect the voters’ opinion, but I was disappointed,” Knackstedt said. “It will come back and we will make the necessary changes.”
Boyle said he voted against the comprehensive plan because he didn’t feel it was complete.
“It didn’t take into account the true feelings of the citizens,” he said. “The plan is a view of the future and we need to understand the voters’ thinking.”
All four candidates shared a similar vision for the long-term future of Kenai and how the city can capitalize on the population boom expected from the Alaska LNG pipeline project.
Boyle said he would to see an economy based on small business in a central business district that people can walk to. He said the city should also re-explore the development of a convention center.
Spann said with the enhanced growth is an opportunity for more small business entrepreneurs.
“We need to support a diverse mix of small businesses and encourage people to think and shop local and bring more traffic to Kenai,” she said.
Knackstedt and Navarre both emphasized with the bluff erosion stabilization underway, the city could see revitalization of Old Town in the future.
Knackstedt said high-end commercial development of Millennium Park and letting developers know about Industrial Park on Marathon Road would be a benefit to the city. He said Kenai Municipal Airport is an economic asset to the city.
“The airport is close to my heart,” he said. “It is the crown jewel of Kenai and doesn’t cost the city anything. We need to start knocking on doors of developers and let them know we are open for business.”
With the economic opportunities aside, the candidates were asked about what challenges can come with population growth.
Navarre said it is imperative that the city works with their neighbors to the north and south, Soldotna and Nikiski, to plan ahead on infrastructure.
“We need to make sure we have the right leadership in place to deal with concerns,” he said. “If we plan for impact we will be better prepared.”
Spann and Knackstedt agreed the city would need to address more residential zoning for housing to deal with the population grown expected in the next five years.
“(The LNG project) is going to make a huge impact and we need to be ready for it,” Spann said.
When asked about how well the current city council works together, Boyle said he’s heard people describe it as dysfunctional, but he disagreed. If the definition of a strong council is one that always votes unanimous, he said he would say that is a weak council.
“The whole premise of American government is people discussing issues and coming together on it,” he said. “One that listens to all point of views weather they agree or not. When the work is done they move forward with what they have.”
Knackstedt said some people might view the current council could as divisive, but he doesn’t believe that is the case.
“I think there is good healthy debate going on,” he said. “I do think the council could work better on issues that benefit the public. If I were elected, I would provide good dialogue and even keel within council.”
Navarre and Spann both said what makes a good council is a body that is out participating in the community.
“I promise to communicate better,” Navarre said. “I know there will always be challenges and tough decisions ahead but I promise by working with everyone I know we can find a solution to any problem.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.